Cape Verde: How social protection can help the elderly

The International Labour Conference is considering adoption of a Recommendation on Social Protection Floors. The ILO is convinced every country can move towards social security for all, and cites the example of impoverished Cape Verde.

Feature | 04 June 2012
(ILO News) – Luisa Oliveira Marques, 81, says the pension she gets from the Government of Cape Verde may not be much, but it is enough to buy the basics. It also gives her peace of mind.

Oliveira Marques lives with a granddaughter and a great-grandson in a one-room house in Salamansa, a fishing community on the Island of Sao Vicente in northwestern Cape Verde. She built the house with money saved from selling fish she had caught herself. “Life was difficult, my children helped as they could, but they also had families and the sea is uncertain. I could not always count on them.”

She now receives a social pension. “It's not much, but my life has changed because I know I can count on the pension to buy the basics. Every day I buy goat milk from my neighbour. I can buy food and soap. I don't have to rely on charity from others. It is also less of a concern for my family. They don't have to worry because they know I will not starve.”

“It is good to know that I have a guaranteed pension,” she says, adding: “It is guaranteed and it gives me peace of mind because I can rely on it.”

While still plagued by a high poverty rate (26.6 per cent) and social inequalities, Cape Verde has achieved significant economic progress over the past two decades and has given social protection a high priority, becoming one of the countries in Sub-Saharan Africa most advanced in setting up a social protection floor.

Because of the high level of informal and rural employment, the vast majority of old people are excluded from the contributory pension system. In order to address this, the Cape Verde authorities established a social pension through the merging of two non-contributory pension schemes aimed at the elderly and the disabled.

Since 2007, the ILO, through the STEP (Strategies and Tools against social Exclusion and Poverty)-Portugal project, has been helping the Government of Cape Verde extend social protection to vulnerable groups. STEP contributed to setting up the National Centre for Social Pension, which administers the social pension, and has been helping strengthen the effectiveness and efficiency of pensions delivery.

About 23,000 people receive the 5,000 Escudos (US$ 65) a month social pension, most of them impoverished former informal economy workers over 60 years of age.

The project is embedded in the ILO’s strategic objective on enhancing the coverage and effectiveness of social protection for all.

Delegates at the ILO’s May 30–June 14 International Labour Conference in Geneva are discussing the possible adoption of a Recommendation on Social Protection Floors.

Addressing the conference, Director General Juan Somavia said that establishing such protections contributes to reducing poverty. “It is a commitment to a decent society, a platform that enables hundreds of millions of women, men and children to progress on a strong footing.”